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‘That is a lie’: Ex-MP’s bizarre Chapman inquiry exit

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Kangaroo Island mayor and former Liberal MP Michael Pengilly has stormed out of a parliamentary inquiry after refusing to answer several questions relating to his opposition to a now-defunct sea port plan in extraordinary scenes this morning.

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The parliamentary committee is examining whether Attorney-General and Planning Minister Vickie Chapman, who hails from KI and owns property there, should have declared a conflict of interest before vetoing the proposal by Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers.

It is also looking into whether she misled parliament about her property’s proximity to the development or breached the ministerial code of conduct.

Pengilly, who retired from parliament in 2018 before returning to his former elected role as KI mayor, is a longtime friend and factional colleague of Chapman’s, whose father Ted was a predecessor in his seat of Finniss (previously known as Alexandrina).

Pengilly was this week described by former KIPT director John Sergeant as an “extreme opponent” of the port plan.

Sergeant told the inquiry of a meeting with Pengilly in 2017, when he was still an MP, at which Chapman showed up unannounced and proceeded to suggest the proposed Smith Bay development was “the wrong location” for a timber port.

Chapman had a different recollection of the meeting, telling the committee KIPT “told me they were looking at a number of ports”.

Pengilly today appeared at the inquiry via video link from Kangaroo Island, delivering a blistering and at times bizarre opening statement in which he heaped scorn on the Smith Bay port plan, and declared he was “very much of the opinion” that the inquiry should focus on “the Smith Bay port and nothing else”.

“The consultation that took place was purely around the port and nothing else,” he said.

“The concept was a lemon and from the time it was first announced, as far as I’m concerned, it was the wrong location for a port.”

He said it had the potential to inflict “enormous environmental damage” and “wipe out adjoining abalone farm”, Yumbah Aquaculture, which has since announced plans to push ahead with a multi-million dollar expansion plan.

Pengilly said the farm’s 30 jobs “may not seem many to you people” but that “they provided a job base for many looking for work” on the island.

“I formed the view from day one [Smith Bay] was a ludicrous, badly thought out port location,” he said, calling it a “foolish purchase… and an even sillier concept”.

However, he insisted “most islanders, myself included, had no problem with a port development” in another location.

He told parliament KIPT “proved themselves to be incompetent throughout”, saying they “didn’t listen to local experience” about an alternative site.

Pengilly then railed against the Labor-led inquiry, calling it a “total absurdity and great waste of taxpayers’ money”.

“The attacks on the Attorney-General through this process are a disgrace,” he said.

He declared that he had invited Chapman to the 2017 meeting with KIPT – despite it not falling directly under her portfolio or electorate responsibilities – because she was “a landholder on the island”.

When pressed on this, he said: “Yes, is there something wrong with that? I don’t see anything unusual about that whatsoever.”

He invited questions, declaring: “I’m an open book.”

However he then proceeded to be anything but, refusing to answer questions from the committee’s counsel assisting, Dr Rachael Gray QC, arguing her presence was “insulting to the other members”.

“You don’t seem to be able to listen,” he told the committee.

“I will not be taking questions from Dr Gray… I don’t care if she’s been given authority by the parliament or whatever.

“If members of parliament haven’t got enough nous to ask questions for themselves, they shouldn’t be in there – end of story.”

That prompted a brief pause to proceedings, during which the committee – which includes two Liberals, Peter Treloar and Matt Cowdrey – unanimously resolved to continue asking questions through Gray.

However, Pengilly staunchly refused to answer them, saying: “Excuse me, if this is Dr Gray… you don’t seem to get it.”

He asked the committee to stop “trying to talk me down and intimidate me”, saying: “I want questions from members of parliament who are duly elected.”

I will not be answering any questions from Dr Gray – zilch, ok? None

Chair Andrea Michaels told him he was “of course at liberty not to answer questions” but “we ask you to show respect”.

Pengilly then asked: “Do I get the right of reply?” to which he was told “the committee’s made its resolution”.

“I will not be answering any questions from Dr Gray – zilch, ok? None!” he said.

After several questions went unanswered, Michaels said: “We’ll note you’re not answering that question, Mr Pengilly.”

“I think I’ve made it quite clear I will not be answering any questions from Dr Gray,” he said.

Asked whether he told KIPT executives they “did not know how things work around here”, Pengilly did respond, saying: “Can I just remind you this process was about Smith Bay port and the planning application – so I will not be answering these questions.”

That approach continued for questions about whether the proposed truck route to the port drove past his house, with the mayor saying the planning application was “nothing to do with truck routes, end of story”.

Gray then pointed to the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, noting the proposed haulage route’s proximity to his property.

“I don’t think you get it, Dr Gray – it’s about the port, not the roads, do you follow that?” Pengilly answered.

Gray went on: “Your property was located on the road that was the truck route to be used into Smith Bay should the proposal be approved.”

“That is a lie,” Pengilly answered.

“I want to suggest to you the assessment report shows the truck route passing in front of your property, approaching Smith Bay from the east,” Gray persisted.

Pengilly said: “I repeat, the planning application was for a port at Smith Bay – nothing to do with roads, ok? End of story.”

Asked further questions about his property’s proximity to Smith Bay, he said nothing, until finally declaring: “I’ve got to say, I cannot be bothered with this – I’ve got better things to do with my time.”

“If you want to ask me questions relating to the port application, I’m fine to answer those [but] I’m not putting up with this charade,” he said.

Finally, he was asked: “Is it fair to say you were opposed to the proposed port at Smith Bay?”, to which he replied: “I intend to leave this meeting.”

“I think it’s just a complete circus and a waste of everybody’s time,” he said.

“It’s very disappointing that you can’t stick to the application, so… I’m sorry, goodbye.”

Pengilly later sent InDaily a separate, unsolicited, response, saying: “A five-member committee with members’ salaries totalling over $1 million per year, and they weren’t allowed to ask questions as elected representatives of the community – ludicrous.”

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